According to Steven Townsend, associate professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, when the work of these substances is studied in more detail, it will be possible to produce drugs based on them.
Biochemists from the United States have found out that the milk of breastfeeding women contains sugar molecules that can neutralize dangerous strains of streptococcus and other microbes that cause severe infections in newborns. This was announced on Sunday by the press service of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
“These sugars have existed for as long as our species, but bacteria have not yet become resistant to their action. If we can understand how these substances work, then we will be able to create new drugs based on these sugars that are suitable for use as a substitute for antibiotics,” said an associate professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville (USA), Steven Townsend, whose words are quoted by the ACS press service.
In the last ten years, biologists and chemists have begun to actively study how cow’s and mother’s milk affect the functioning of the body of children and adults. Their studies have shown that milk contains various enzymes that help the body fight microbes and inflammation and play an important role in forming the intestinal microflora in newborns.
A significant proportion of these nutrients are lost during milk processing or the preparation of dry mixes for babies. According to WHO experts, several hundred thousand babies die in the first days and months of their life because some women refuse to breastfeed in the first six months after the birth of their children.
Townsend and his colleagues have been studying the beneficial properties of breast milk for many years. They recently discovered that it contains a set of oligosaccharides, complex sugar molecules that can destroy certain types of pathogenic bacteria. These include streptococcus strains that cause life-threatening infections in newborns and their mothers.
When scientists discovered these molecules, they were interested in whether these sugars could suppress bacterial infections in cell cultures and the body of several pregnant mice. As shown by subsequent observations and experiments, oligosaccharides suppressed the growth of microbes and the formation of bacterial films in cell cultures. Also, they prevented the development of severe infections in the body of females and their future offspring.
The exact mechanisms of these sugary substances remain a mystery to chemists. Still, Townsend and his colleagues suggest that they prevent dangerous bacteria from attaching to human body tissues and accelerate the growth of beneficial representatives of the microflora competing for resources with streptococcus and other pathogens.
Shortly, biochemists plan to study the entire set of two hundred oligosaccharides present in mother’s milk and select from them those that most effectively act on microbes. The scientists concluded that this would allow us to study the mechanisms of their work and understand how they can be adapted to create new drugs that can replace antibiotics.